Sandy Boyer (SB) interviews via telephone Ed Moloney (EM), the author of A Secret History of the IRA, about the situation in East Cork Sinn Féin. Thanks to TPQ Transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
11 July 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 43:20)
SB: And we're talking now to Ed Moloney, the author of, among other things, A Secret History of the IRA. Ed, thanks very much for being with us.
EM: No problem, Sandy.
SB: Ed, you know they used to call John Gotti the Teflon Don because nothing ever stuck to him. It seems like we now have a Teflon Party Leader in Ireland - someone who's questioned about conspiracy to murder, who is repeatedly accused of covering-up for paedophiles, including his own brother, who can't speak confidently about his party's economic policy - and that party leader of course is Gerry Adams - his party is Sinn Féin. How do you account for this?
EM: Well, I guess it's difficult to explain this to an audience where it's used to sort of Democratic and Republican style political parties where you have changes in leadership constantly and no one person really dominates with the odd exception like an FDR or maybe a Reagan-type figure. But in the case of Adams it's really quite extraordinary. He became leader of Sinn Féin in 1983 and here we are now like thirty-two years later and he's still there and he's as - I would argue - as impregnable as he ever was. And you're quite right, he has been mired in controversy for years now. The thing is that he's not particularly liked by other politicians. Unlike someone like Martin McGuinness, who seems to be quite good company, Gerry is a little bit aloof and he doesn't drink much and he doesn't go out with the lads and what have you which doesn't help.
But he is regarded by the major political parties as a threat and clearly they would like to get rid of him. But objectively there are just so many scandals involving him, as you mentioned there, ranging from the Jean McConville affair, where you have leading former comrades saying that he was intimately involved in the decision to “disappear” her and other people as well. And then the whole issue of his brother, Liam, and did Gerry cover-up or not cover-up Liam's sexual habits for many, many years? And you know, in any normal party either one of those scandals would be enough to topple them. You know, if you look at someone like Enda Kenny of Fine Gael, if he was associated with a child paedophile and with accusations that he lied to the police or covered up or lied to society in general on behalf of that paedophile he'd be out on his backside before you could blink almost. But Gerry's more or less safe I think.
And I think the reason for that is in the very unique nature of Sinn Féin. And there are two characteristics that make it “very special” as a political party: One is that behind the curtain there is the IRA and always has been and always will be. And the IRA still exists in a much obviously truncated fashion but nevertheless it's still there; there's a leadership, there's an Army Council, there are some structures, etc. There's an awful lot of money in the IRA's coffers in one way or another. And the IRA is ultimately a very powerful actor in all of this. It makes decision about who are going be the leading political representatives of their brand of Republicani
And the other unique factor or feature about Sinn Féin is that it's actually Gerry Adams' own creation, really, this Sinn Féin, the one that we saw developing from the mid-1980's onwards. And it was he who developed the whole idea of the Republicans getting into political activity, it was he who pushed forward the idea of getting involved in electoral political – these were both very, very successful stratagems which lead ultimately to the peace process and to Sinn Féin's growth on both sides of the border – all these are down to Gerry Adams - not to anyone else. And over the years his power and control and grip over the party he has just tightened and tightened so that he gets to decide who's who in the party and if you're a senior politician and you can do that you appoint people who are on your side and that means that your position is evermore stronger. So it is a very, very unique political party and a very unique political leader. And even though as I say all these scandals would be enough to topple anyone else they haven't even come near in toppling Gerry.
SB: The other thing is Gerry is part of what we call a “southern strategy” - of growing Sinn Féin in The Twenty-Six Counties, in The South of Ireland, getting into government there and that's their priority. But Gerry himself is very much a Northerner. He's from Belfast of course, was the IRA Officer Commanding in Belfast but he's not comfortable talking about The South. I mean, every time he goes on television and talks about their economic policy he makes a fool out of himself. And there are a lot of younger politicians in Sinn Féin, southern politicians, people who are comfortable with all those issues – why doesn't anyone of them challenge him – which is what would happen in any ordinary party - it would be better for Sinn Féin.
EM: Yeah, there's sort of Pearse Doherty-type figures who I think in most political parties, most “normal” political parties in quote marks, would be up there vying for his job given his advanced years and given all the scandals etc he'd be well on the way to being replaced by someone like him. But the reason why it hasn't happened is I think a recognition on their part that they're just not strong enough in terms of their support within Sinn Féin and that comes again down to the issue of who really runs the show in Sinn Féin and the Republican Movement – you know they will officially deny and protest angrily at any suggestions that the IRA still rules the roost but in my view it does and it probably always will and that's one major factor.
And the other is that, as I say, this is Gerry Adams' own party - he's put his people, his people, in the right places - people who are able to tell him of any impending challenge to his leadership and he's able to move very fast - assuming that there was such a thing and I don't believe there has really been any attempt to overthrow him - and they just won't do it. They're waiting for him to die, I think essentially, or to take his own decision to retire, either through senility or whatever, but I can't see them and I don't see them actually mounting a challenge to actually expel him as leader or kick him out as leader.
SB: Well, there is a new development in East Cork where normal politics seemed to break out. We have the sitting member of the southern parliament complaining that she's not getting paid enough, that she needs more money to have her hair done and for make-up, and you have people conspiring against her because they want her seat and being kicked out because of that. That's sort of normal politics!
EM: That's very healthy politics. But the point is: that is the exception that proves the rule in Sinn Féin. The very fact that it happened everyone's looking at it actually amazed and astounded because this is something you just don't associate with this party. I remember reading a very good piece in The Irish Times a while back by a former colleague of mine at The Sunday Tribune and he was writing about this atmosphere, this ethos, within Sinn Féin of total obedience and total conformity to party rules. And he was writing that every week the various parties in the Irish Parliament, in The Dáil, the parliamentary parties – would have their meeting - they would meet every week to discuss issues of the day etc. So Fianna Fáil would meet and Fine Gael would meet, the Irish Labour Party would meet and so on and so forth. And journalists would hang around outside afterwards and there would be no shortage of people willing to talk to them afterwards in full view of their colleagues - they weren't shy about doing it – this is not something they did behind the door as it were - and they would talk and gossip and a journalist who was at all active in this would be able to find out quite a lot about what's going on inside Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Irish Labour Party.
When Sinn Féin meets - when they come out - not one of them goes near a journalist and they're all scuttering away before you could whistle and not one of them would be seen talking to a journalist. And the only people who talk to the journalists are the official spokespeople who are briefed by the leadership, ie by Gerry and his close colleagues, and that's just the way it is – it's very militaristic – I think is the word that springs to mind or Stalinistic or democratically-central or whatever the phraseology is - it's a very controlled organisation. So when something like East Cork happens and you have this dissent spilling out into the open it's such a contrast to the norm in Sinn Féin that first of all it's amazing that it happens and it's very entertaining to watch but what's happened to it? I mean we had a few days of revelations and scandals and what have you but it's been sat upon and we're not hearing a word about what's going on in East Cork now.
SB: Well it's interesting now, speaking of a Stalinist apparatus, the people who had the nerve to want to challenge the sitting TD, which is a normal thing in most political parties, got kicked out!
EM: Yes, yes, absolutely. And these were people who had been party stalwarts for many, many years. I mean the leader of this group, whose name escapes me at the moment, joined Sinn Féin in 1981. In other words he was part of the hunger strike generation of Republicans and as you know, Sandy, the Provos are characterised by waves of recruitment – '69 was one great, big wave - '81, the hunger strike in 1981, was another one and each one changed the nature of the organisation somewhat. And the '81 generation was the one that was attracted by the idea of electoral politics and contributing something more than just holding a gun and shooting a gun and violence, etc and to lose people like that I think is actually quite serious and indicative of a deeper malaise I think. But nonetheless, it's been confined so far to East Cork. You don't see it elsewhere. You certainly don't see it in The North. And it's very much the exception that proves the rule, I think.
SB: Well okay. Ed, thank you very much.
EM: My pleasure.
SB: We've been talking to Ed Moloney, the author of A Secret History of the IRA, about the Teflon Party leader, Gerry Adams.
(end time stamp ~ 55:53)